St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of Forgiveness

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, March 5, 2006

In The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

On this the Sunday of Forgiveness, I think we need to think of forgiveness as more than something we do, but as something we are, or are meant to become. Forgiveness, Jesus says, if it is true, must come from the heart, overflowing like the streams of living water the Lord mentions in St. John’s Gospel. Forgiveness is the natural response of people who have nurtured the Kingdom of Heaven in themselves in whom the image of God has been burnished like bronze.

Often we hear that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must die. I think this is a wrong emphasis. In order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must be alive. God is Lord of the living and not of the dead. The more fully alive, the more truly awake and aware we become, the more the truth of Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is within reveals itself.

Think of the beautiful images Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of heaven. One time he likened it to yeast in a ball of dough. Yeast is very much alive and when it is combined with warmth it expands making dough rise. From one ball of dough sometimes you can get many loaves of bread if the yeast is tended properly. We must learn to tend the yeast of the Kingdom in our hearts so that it will rise and produce loaves of bread we can share with the world, like loaves of forgiveness.

Another image: the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, tiny, insignificant, almost invisible and yet, if planted and watered the seed grows to become a great tree in which many birds and animals can make their home. The seed of the Kingdom is in us waiting to be planted, waiting to be watered.

If the yeast in us is not of the Kingdom, but of, say, anger, what will happen? The bread we will produce will bring suffering to ourselves and others. We will find ourselves eating bread that will make us sick and drive others away. The fruit of our work will be harmful and not of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We must be careful not to plant bad seeds. If we spend our time meditating on anger, we plant seeds of anger and our hearts will overflow with angry fruit. On the other hand, if we spend our time thinking of compassion, we plant seeds of the Kingdom and our hearts will be filled to overflowing with compassion.

Forgiveness is a seed that must be planted and watered in our hearts so that forgiveness will flow from us like “rivers of living water”. Forgiveness is so much more than something we do, it is something we become. It would be wonderful if it could be said of us that forgiveness is who we are.

Planting and watering the seeds of the Kingdom, like forgiveness and compassion, is something we can do everyday, every moment, by refusing to let things like unforgiveness, anger and impatience find a place to live in us. We can deliberately choose to allow only godly thoughts to find a home in us, but this takes continuous effort and desire. We are what we think, so if we meditate on compassion we become compassionate. Meditating on the Name, life and teachings of Jesus is the best way to become like Jesus. This is what so many of the holy mothers and fathers teach. It is what St. Paul referred to when he said that “I no longer lives, but Christ lives in me.” We can, if we desire, nurture “Christ in us” so that St. Paul’s words become our own.

“Whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise think (contemplate, meditate) on these things.” (Phil, 4.8)

Do we not want that for ourselves? Do we not want to be fully alive, to dwell in the Kingdom, to become sources of living water for the world? Do we not believe it is possible to see the full fruition of “Christ in us”?

“Where your treasure is there will your heart be also,” means what we desire for ourselves is what we believe is valuable and possible. If we desire to be free, freedom is our treasure and the freer we become. If we desire to love, then love is our treasure and the more loving we become and the more love we are able to receive. If forgiveness is our treasure, we will become more forgiving and receive, in turn, more forgiveness. Of course, when we spend our treasure it will reveal to everyone what our treasure is. “By their fruits you shall know them.” Let us make godliness the treasure of our hearts.

Yes, it is possible for love, forgiveness, compassion and freedom to manifest themselves in us if we make them our treasure. If Jesus is the desire of our hearts, then the Kingdom of Heaven will be our treasure. The words of Jesus are true. The more we put forth the effort, day by day, moment by moment to make Jesus the center of our thoughts and lives the more we will see the Kingdom within, the more we will come to know what it means to be truly alive. The more we turn away from the contemplation and practice of harmful things the more our hearts and minds will be at ease. The more we practice forgiveness, compassion and mercy the more they will grow in us and the joy and peace of God’s Kingdom will fill us and bring healing to all.

All good things take preparation and effort none more than the spiritual life. The truth is that the more we put into it the more return there is. Tonight we will explore and practice forgiveness at Forgiveness Vespers. It can be a beginning for us of greater things if we desire it. The door to the Kingdom is wide open.